Power Rankings, Week 8: East passes West as season enters second quarter
Bucks, Lakers hold top spots in latest ranking of all 30 teams
Now might be the time to debate if the top 16 teams, regardless of conference, should make the postseason. Through seven weeks, the East is the conference with eight teams at .500 or better, while the West only has six. The East has won 14 of the last 20 games played between the two conferences and has a winning record overall (60-59).
But there’s a healthy-sized drop-off after the top eight in the East (though the ninth-place Pistons have won three of four for the first time this season). In the West, teams 7-12 each have nine or 10 wins. The Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs have all had disappointing seasons thus far, but they’re all just a game or two out of playoff position.
That makes for a fascinating landscape with a large group of players becoming trade eligible on Sunday. Are teams like the Blazers, Kings and Spurs looking for upgrades? How many teams in either conference are ready to be sellers at this point?
There are a few important games within that 7-12 range in the West this week. The Suns play two of them, hosting the Wolves (with whom they’re tied at 10-12) on Monday and facing the Spurs in Mexico City on Saturday.
At the top of each conference, the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers are cruising along. And for the third straight week, they occupy the top two spots, with Milwaukee’s thumping of the LA Clippers keeping them at No. 1.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: Eric Bledsoe (MIL) was a plus-67 in three games last week.
- Wrong Way: Kevin Knox (NYK) was a minus-68 in three games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Milwaukee (3-0) — Let’s not make this complicated. The Bucks won their three games, including one against the Clippers, by an average of 32 points.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Cleveland (0-3) — The Cavs have lost 12 of their last 13 (which says something about the state of the Blazers on Nov. 23), and chatter about discord between the new coach and his players has begun.
East vs. West
- The East is 60-59 (.504) against the West in interconference games after going 11-5 last week.
Schedule strength through Week 7
- Toughest: 1. New Orleans, 2. Atlanta, 3. Cleveland
- Easiest: 1. Dallas, 2. Philadelphia, 3. Indiana
- Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.
Movement in the Rankings
- High jumps of the week: Atlanta (+4), Boston (+4), Orlando (+4)
- Free falls of the week: Toronto (-6), Denver (-4)
Week 8 Team to Watch
- Boston — Eastern Conference positioning behind the first-place Bucks remains very interesting, and the Celtics picked up a big win over the Heat on Wednesday, benefitting from a rest advantage over a team that played in Toronto the night before. This week, the Celtics have their own back-to-back within that top five in the East, visiting the Pacers (the first of three meetings) on Wednesday and hosting the Sixers (the first meeting since opening night) on Thursday.
- Last week: Raptors rise to No. 3; Blazers climb 7 spots
- This time last year: Big win in Toronto gets Bucks back to No. 1 — The Bucks traded for George Hill, the Grizzlies signed Joakim Noah, and Markelle Fultz got a diagnosis on his right shoulder condition. Bulls players thought about boycotting a practice and Devin Booker got into it with DeAndre Ayton in the Suns’ locker room. Luka Doncic scored 11 straight points to beat the Rockets, who were 11-14 and in 14th place in the West. The Thunder pulled off a huge comeback, capped by Paul George’s game-winning three, in Brooklyn. But two nights later, the Nets ended an eight-game losing streak with their first of seven straight wins.
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Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league has averaged 101.3 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 108.4 points scored per 100 possessions this season.
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NBA.com’s Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man’s opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via Twitter.
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The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
Last Week: 1
Pace: 105.7 (1) OffRtg: 114.0 (2) DefRtg: 101.1 (1) NetRtg: +12.9 (1)
A 28-point victory over the Clippers (with a 49-24 second-half score before coach Doc Rivers waived the white flag) was the signature win that the Bucks' winning streak (now at 14 games) was missing, and it came with big minutes from the bench. Pat Connaughton didn't miss a shot, George Hill (the league leader in 3-point percentage) didn't commit a turnover, Donte DiVincenzo (in the top 10 in deflections per 36 minutes) was all in the Clippers' passing lanes, and the Bucks outscored the Clippers, 23-4, in 6:44 (before garbage time) with both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton on the bench. In 49 total minutes with those three perimeter reserves on the floor, Bucks opponents have scored just 88 points on 110 possessions (80 per 100). The Bucks had the league's No. 1 defense last season and they never held their opponent under a point per possession for more than three straight games. They're now on a run of four straight, with four below-average offenses on the schedule this week.
Week 8: vs. ORL, vs. NOP, @ MEM, vs. CLE
Last Week: 2
Pace: 100.8 (16) OffRtg: 112.9 (4) DefRtg: 103.5 (5) NetRtg: +9.4 (2)
Since their loss to Dallas on the first day of the month, the Lakers have dominated their tough December schedule, outscoring their opponents by more than 18 points per 100 possessions over their four-game winning streak. They've been relentless in transition, averaging 27 fast break points (seven more than any other team) over their last six games, with Anthony Davis registering 15 by himself on Sunday. Over the last 12 years, there have been four 50-point games without a 3-pointer, Davis has three of the four, and his 50 against the Wolves came with 11 buckets on 11 attempts in the restricted area. As a team, the Lakers rank second in both restricted area field goal percentage (69.6%) and the percentage of their shots that have come from the restricted area (37%). After ranking 20th offensively (105.5 points scored per 100 possessions) through the first three weeks of the season, they've ranked second (117.5) over the last four. Now they'll play six of their next seven games against teams that currently rank in the top 10 defensively.
Week 8: @ ORL, @ MIA, @ ATL
Last Week: 4 ↑
Pace: 103.6 (7) OffRtg: 110.9 (7) DefRtg: 104.5 (10) NetRtg: +6.4 (6)
On the other side of the Bucks' strong bench performance on Friday was the Clippers getting outscored by 27 points in 19 minutes with Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell on the floor together, their worst plus-minus mark in duo's 177 games together with the Clippers. Having two Kia Sixth Man of the Year candidates to turn to when his two All-NBA guys are off the floor is a huge luxury for Rivers, but he also has the ability to have either Paul George or Kawhi Leonard on the floor at all times, and at this point, he hasn't felt the need to stagger their minutes in the games in which they've both been available. Even in a 16-point win over the Wizards on Sunday, the Clips were outscored, 30-20, in 11 pre-garbage-time minutes with both George and Leonard on the bench. Maybe it's just a blip, but it's something to monitor as their six game trip concludes this week, with Leonard making his return to Toronto on Wednesday.
Week 8: @ IND, @ TOR, @ MIN, @ CHI
Last Week: 8 ↑
Pace: 100.0 (21) OffRtg: 110.2 (9) DefRtg: 103.0 (4) NetRtg: +7.2 (4)
After scoring less than a point per possessions over a 2-3 trip, the Celtics have scored 113.7 per 100 over a 5-1 stretch, capped by big wins over a couple of top-10 defenses (those of the Heat and Nuggets) to stay undefeated (9-0) at TD Garden. Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have all averaged between 22 and 24 points over the six games, and Tatum's 15 assists over their three-game winning streak are the most he's had in any three-game stretch in his career. The Celtics have actually seen drops in ball movement (from 354 to 334 passes per 24 minutes of possession) and assist percentage (from 62% to 59%) from last season. But there's a bit more balance in the usage rates of their top three guys and they have three of the 24 players (Marcus Smart, Brown and Walker) with an effective field goal percentage better than 50% on at least 50 pull-up jumpers. The wins over Miami and Denver (in which the Celtics had a rest advantage both nights) were also the first time they've held two straight opponents under a point per possession.
Week 8: vs. CLE, @ IND, vs. PHI
Last Week: 5
Pace: 100.3 (18) OffRtg: 116.9 (1) DefRtg: 107.6 (13) NetRtg: +9.4 (3)
The best bench in the league carried the Mavs to wins over New Orleans and Minnesota early last week; Over the back-to-back, they outscored their opponents by 56 points in 49 minutes with Kristaps Porzingis off the floor. But the bench lost some of its mojo over the weekend, with Delon Wright suffering a groin injury in the first quarter of their win over the Pelicans on Saturday and Jalen Brunson being yanked after less than five first-half minutes (and being DNP'd thereafter) in their loss to the Kings on Sunday. More playing time for J.J. Barea is a wonderful thing, and the 35-year-old was a plus-25 in 29 total minutes over the weekend. But the Mavs rely a lot on having two playmakers behind Luka Doncic, who is now better than Michael Jordan. After facing the Pistons in Mexico City on Thursday, the Mavs will play a string of five games (three on the road, two at home) against each the five best teams in the Eastern Conference.
Week 8: @ DET (Mexico City), vs. MIA
Last Week: 7 ↑
Pace: 100.6 (17) OffRtg: 108.9 (13) DefRtg: 103.0 (3) NetRtg: +5.9 (7)
The Sixers' 12-0 record at home now includes wins over the Celtics, Heat, Pacers, Jazz and Raptors. They won their three first halves at home last week by a total score of 194-120, and their offense scored 117 total first-half points on 102 possessions against the Utah and Toronto defenses. Matisse Thybulle (13-for-22 from 3-point range over the last seven games) might be the bomber Brett Brown has been looking for, Ben Simmons hit another three, and the Sixers have actually climbed into the top 10 in 3-point percentage, having shot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc in each of their last four home games. But the Sixers' 5-7 record on the road now includes a loss to the Wizards in which Simmons and Joel Embiid combined for 15 turnovers. Their game in Boston on Thursday is a chance to put that one behind them and hand the Celtics their first loss at home (unless the Cavs manage to do it on Monday). The Sixers will have a rest advantage, with Boston playing in Indiana the night before.
Week 8: vs. DEN, @ BOS, vs. NOP, @ BKN
Last Week: 9 ↑
Pace: 105.4 (2) OffRtg: 113.1 (3) DefRtg: 108.1 (15) NetRtg: +5.1 (9)
The Rockets continue to see defenses focused on taking the ball out of James Harden's hands, and Russell Westbrook continues to shoot poorly from the perimeter. Even though he's doubled his ratio of 3-point attempts to mid-range attempts (from 0.75 to 1.50), Westbrook's effective field goal percentage of 33.4% on shots from outside the paint is down from 38.1% last season and ranks 131st among 132 players who have taken at least 100 shots from the outside. But Houston has won five out of their last six games (with the one loss in dispute) thanks to a career-best stretch from Ben McLemore (24, 28 and 27 points over the last three wins), a ton of second-chance points, and Westbrook getting to the basket late (he had four fourth-quarter buckets in the restricted area) against Phoenix on Saturday. They're tied in the loss column with the fourth-place Clippers and the Phoenix win began a stretch where they're playing nine of 10 games against teams that are currently at or below .500.
Week 8: vs. SAC, @ CLE, @ ORL, vs. DET
Last Week: 10 ↑
Pace: 100.1 (20) OffRtg: 109.3 (12) DefRtg: 104.1 (7) NetRtg: +5.2 (8)
The Heat are tied (with the Lakers) for the league lead with 12 wins that weren't within five points in the last five minutes, but they're also 3-0 in overtime, thanks to Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro. Butler scored eight points in the first 55 seconds of OT in Toronto on Tuesday (the Raptors' first loss at home), and Herro drained three 3-pointers in the extra period against Chicago on Sunday (as the Heat avoided their first loss at home). Butler assisted Herro four times in the final seven minutes on Sunday and the Heat have outscored their opponents by 15.2 points per 100 possessions with the pair on the floor together. That's the best mark among the team's two-man combinations that have logged at least 200 minutes, and it's mostly about the offense. There should be some concern with Bam Adebayo (probably the Heat's most indispensable player) playing through a groin injury, but he still managed to total 45 points (on 17-for-25 shooting), 27 rebounds and 10 assists over the weekend.
Week 8: vs. ATL, vs. LAL, @ DAL
Last Week: 3 ↓
Pace: 101.2 (14) OffRtg: 110.1 (10) DefRtg: 103.7 (6) NetRtg: +6.5 (5)
The champs have come back to earth a bit, losing three straight games to fall to 3-7 against the other 12 teams that currently have winning records. They've allowed more than 112 points per 100 possessions over the losing streak, but the bigger difference between their numbers in games vs. the good teams (104.8 points scored per 100 possessions) and their 12 games (all wins) against everybody else (114.6 per 100) has been on offense. It starts with Pascal Siakam, who has averaged 26.9 points on effective field goal percentage of 56.4% in the other 12 games and just 21.9 on 46.0% in the 10 games against the tougher opponents. Overall, his effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage are now way down from last season. One of those tough opponents was the Clippers, Siakam shot 6-for-17 in L.A. on Nov. 11 (when he was mostly guarded by Maurice Harkless and Patrick Patterson), and the rematch is Wednesday.
Week 8: @ CHI, vs. LAC, vs. BKN
Last Week: 6 ↓
Pace: 98.1 (29) OffRtg: 106.9 (20) DefRtg: 102.3 (2) NetRtg: +4.6 (11)
Everything -- the offense and the bench, especially -- looked great at Madison Square Garden on Thursday. Then Nikola Jokic had his long-awaited breakthrough over the weekend, registering a usage rate of 30% or better in two straight games for just the second time this season and totaling 54 points on 55% shooting in Boston and Brooklyn. But the Nuggets have lost four of their last five games, scoring less than a point per possession in three of the four losses. They shot 6-for-29 and 5-for-30 from 3-point range against the Lakers and Celtics, respectively, last week. And when they made 18 threes in Brooklyn on Sunday, they tied a season low with just 22 points in the paint. It would be interesting to see if Michael Porter Jr. could give the offense a shot in the arm, but the rotation has been too healthy and coach Michael Malone apparently isn't ready to give the rookie that opportunity. After the Nuggets wrap up their four-game trip in Philadelphia on Tuesday, they'll begin their longest homestand (five games over nine days) of the season.
Week 8: @ PHI, vs. POR, vs. OKC, vs. NYK
Last Week: 11
Pace: 99.4 (23) OffRtg: 108.9 (14) DefRtg: 104.2 (8) NetRtg: +4.7 (10)
The Pacers' five-game road trip was their worst five-game stretch of defense (109.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) of the season, and they're probably glad they don't have to play the Pistons again. But T.J. Warren remains on fire (he has an effective field goal percentage of 66% and has shot 73% in the paint over the last eight games) and the 3-2 trip ended with Myles Turner blocking three Knicks shots in the final 70 seconds of the Pacers' one-point win (without Malcolm Brogdon) on Saturday. Since his return from an eight-game absence in November, Turner ranks as the league's best high-volume rim protector, with opponents having shot less than 45% at the basket when he's been there. The Pacers are 0-2 against the five teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings, with their first meeting with the second-place Celtics on Wednesday.
Week 8: vs. LAC, vs. BOS, @ ATL, vs. CHA
Last Week: 14 ↑
Pace: 102.6 (10) OffRtg: 108.7 (16) DefRtg: 109.0 (16) NetRtg: -0.3 (17)
Rebounding has been an issue at times for the Nets, but a three-game winning streak has come with dominance on the glass. They've grabbed 44 more boards than their opponents over the three games and held Denver to a season-low three second chance points in a three-point win on Sunday. For the season, Jarrett Allen ranks third among individuals in offensive rebounding percentage, while DeAndre Jordan ranks sixth in defensive rebounding percentage and Taurean Prince has done his part as a relatively small four man. Jordan's minutes have been better of late (in part because they've separated the minutes of Theo Pinson and Dzanen Musa in the backcourt), and he's dropped at least two dimes in four straight games. The Nets are 9-3 without Kyrie Irving (though only plus-1.8 per 100 possessions over that stretch), but he probably won't be the guy they cut when Wilson Chandler's suspension comes to an end this week.
Week 8: vs. CHA, @ TOR, vs. PHI
Last Week: 12 ↓
Pace: 100.9 (15) OffRtg: 105.8 (23) DefRtg: 105.1 (11) NetRtg: +0.7 (13)
A couple of days off and a game against Memphis on Saturday provided some relief after the Jazz lost three straight and had a stretch of five games in which they were outscored in the first half by a total of 101 points. The win also came with a season-high 10 assists from Joe Ingles, who started for the injured Mike Conley and led a couple of bench units that were a plus-22 in a little more than 10 minutes. This team still has a lot to figure out offensively. They've seen the league's biggest drop -- from 75% (fourth in the league) last season to 69% (17th) this season -- in the percentage of their shots that have come from the restricted area or 3-point range and they've committed at least 20 turnovers in three straight games. But getting Ingles going would be a big step and the schedule is easing up quite a bit. The Memphis win was the first game of a stretch where they're playing 13 of 15 against teams that are currently at or below .500. They've won their last five against that group.
Week 8: vs. OKC, @ MIN, vs. GSW
Last Week: 15 ↑
Pace: 99.8 (22) OffRtg: 107.8 (18) DefRtg: 107.8 (14) NetRtg: -0.0 (16)
Eighteen of the Thunder's 22 games, including 10 of the last 11 and five straight, have been within five points in the last five minutes. They've won four of those last five, with the highlight being their overtime victory over the Wolves -- featuring Chris Paul's tattling and Steven Adam's touchdown pass to Dennis Schroder -- on Friday, which has them in playoff position (and Minnesota in ninth place). With their top five guys all averaging between 16 and 21 points, the Thunder have both a top five offense (116.4 points scored per 100 possessions) and the league's lowest assist rate (they've assisted on just 46% of their buckets) in December. The top-five lineup is winning the Thunder games down the stretch and has now outscored its opponents by more than 30 points per 100 possessions, but coach Billy Donovan is keeping its minutes limited. With Terrance Ferguson out over the weekend, Abdel Nader got his first two starts of the season. They're 0-3 in the second game of back-to-backs and will have a rest disadvantage in Utah on Monday.
Week 8: @ UTA, @ SAC, @ DEN
Last Week: 19 ↑
Pace: 98.5 (28) OffRtg: 104.5 (26) DefRtg: 104.4 (9) NetRtg: +0.0 (15)
The Magic have won four straight to hit .500 for the first time since they were 2-2. Evan Fournier had 63 points over the first two wins, Aaron Gordon had a season-high 32 (on 13-for-15 shooting) against Phoenix on Wednesday, and Markelle Fultz continues to show progress. But the Orlando starting lineup (with Khem Birch in the place of the injured Nikola Vucevic) has been outscored by 24 points in its 64 minutes over the four games. The bench -- with at least one starter on the floor at all times, with Terrence Ross (effective field goal percentage of 61%) finally finding his shot, and with D.J. Augustin a team-best plus-52 -- has been the key to the winning streak. The Magic are still just 1-7 (and have scored less than a point per possession) against teams that are currently over .500 and games on Monday and Wednesday against the first place teams in each conference tip off a stretch where they're playing 10 of 15 against that group.
Week 8: @ MIL, vs. LAL, vs. HOU, @ NOP
Last Week: 13 ↓
Pace: 104.4 (4) OffRtg: 108.0 (17) DefRtg: 109.9 (20) NetRtg: -1.9 (18)
After winning seven of their first 11 games, the Wolves have lost eight of their last 11, including four straight, to fall out of playoff position. Their best defensive players have been flashing some offense -- Robert Covington is 13-for-25 from 3-point range over the losing streak and Josh Okogie totaled 30 points over the weekend -- but the team's defensive numbers have gotten progressively worse over the course of the losing streak. The Lakers shot 59% and Anthony Davis dropped 50 on 'em on Sunday, and the Wolves will face two more top-10 offenses this week. Jordan Bell was the guilty party with the untucked jersey on Friday, but Ryan Saunders has been giving a Bell-Karl-Anthony Towns frontline more of a look in December. It got 40 total minutes -- with the Wolves and their opponents combining to score 224 points on 164 possessions (1.37 per) in those minutes - on Friday and Sunday.
Week 8: @ PHX, vs. UTA, vs. LAC
Last Week: 16 ↓
Pace: 97.9 (30) OffRtg: 106.5 (21) DefRtg: 109.6 (17) NetRtg: -3.1 (20)
The Kings suffered a pretty brutal loss in San Antonio on Friday, blowing a nine-point lead with less than two minutes to go in regulation, shooting 2-for-13 in overtime, and missing four decent shots for the win on the final possession. But a wire-to-wire win in Dallas with an eight-man rotation (though they almost blew a 24-point, second-half lead) is a pretty strong way to recover. Their starting lineup with Cory Joseph at the point isn't nearly as good offensively as it was with De'Aaron Fox, but Buddy Hield has scored at least 20 points in seven straight games and, with Nemanja Bjelica tying a career high with 30 points, the Dallas win was the Kings' second best offensive performance (110 points on just 89 possessions) of the season. The last of their three straight Texas games is Monday in Houston, but they begin another four-game trip (that takes them from San Francisco to the Southeast) at the end of the week.
Week 8: @ HOU, vs. OKC, vs. NYK, @ GSW
Last Week: 17 ↓
Pace: 103.0 (8) OffRtg: 110.9 (6) DefRtg: 109.7 (18) NetRtg: +1.2 (12)
The Suns' two most-used lineups are their other four starters with either Aron Baynes or Frank Kaminsky at center. The two lineups have almost identical numbers on both ends of the floor, but the Suns are 3-7 with the league's 25th-ranked defense since Baynes suffered the first of two injuries that have kept him out for all but 25 minutes of the last 10 games. Maybe they were due for some regression and maybe Baynes is really valuable, especially with DeAndre Ayton suspended for four more games. Kaminsky did help them remain in playoff position by scoring six of their 14 points in overtime (after they blew a 20-point lead) in New Orleans on Thursday, but the Suns have been hurt on the glass when he's been at the five. They have three big games (against the Wolves, Spurs and Blazers) in that 7-11 group in the West in the next eight days.
Week 8: vs. MIN, vs. MEM, vs. SAS (Mexico City)
Last Week: 20 ↑
Pace: 98.7 (26) OffRtg: 110.3 (8) DefRtg: 109.8 (19) NetRtg: +0.5 (14)
The Pistons have won three out of four for the first time this season, they won the season series (3-1) against the Pacers, and their offense keeps scoring efficiently when it doesn't have to face the Bucks' defense. Blake Griffin's effective field goal percentage (48.2%) is the lowest mark of his career (he's 30-for-100 from outside the restricted area), but he hit the go-ahead three off a drive from Derrick Rose against the Pacers on Friday. Detroit punished Indiana (a top-10 rebounding team) on the glass, with Andre Drummond corralling more boards (22) than Domantas Sabonis (13) and Myles Turner (5) combined. Drummond's rebounding percentage -- he's grabbed 24.7% of available rebounds while he's been on the floor -- would be the highest in the 24 seasons for which we have play-by-play data. The Pistons have played just two games (fewest in the league) against the Western Conference, but will have three this week, with Drummond facing off against the only other guy with multiple 20-20 games (Clint Capela) in Houston on Saturday.
Week 8: @ NOP, vs. DAL (Mexico City), @ HOU
Last Week: 23 ↑
Pace: 101.3 (13) OffRtg: 108.9 (15) DefRtg: 112.4 (23) NetRtg: -3.5 (22)
Maybe two miracle wins and some time off will spark a turnaround for the Spurs. They came back from eight and nine points down with less than two minutes left in regulation to win two games in overtime last week. Bryn Forbes had a big game against Houston and DeMar DeRozan hit three (!) 3-pointers against Sacramento, but the common thread in both wins are good minutes and big shots from guys off the bench. Lonnie Walker had a career night -- 29 points, including a personal, 8-0 run to send the game to OT -- on Tuesday, Marco Belinelli broke out of his slump just in time to save the game on Friday, and Dejounte Murray was a plus-30 over two games they won by a total of three points. Patty Mills' on-off differential only got bigger with the second win. The Spurs' worst three minutes of the game (minus-41 for the season) have been the first three minutes of the first quarter, and their best (plus-30) have been the final three minutes of the first. They'll have had five full days off before playing the Cavs (with a rest advantage) on Thursday.
Week 8: vs. CLE, @ PHX (Mexico City)
Last Week: 18 ↓
Pace: 102.7 (9) OffRtg: 109.3 (11) DefRtg: 111.8 (21) NetRtg: -2.4 (19)
The Blazers are down another starter, losing Rodney Hood (the league leader in catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage) to a torn Achilles on Friday. After that feel-good, Player-of-the-Week Melo, three-game winning streak, they've dropped three of their last four, allowing 119 points per 100 possessions over the four games. They had no answer defensively for Paul George (25 points in 29 minutes on Tuesday) or Anthony Davis (39 in 32 minutes on Friday), and in their most important game of the week, they shot just 36% at home against the Thunder. Though Hassan Whiteside had a huge game (22 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists and three blocks) against Sacramento on Wednesday, the answer to a lot of their issues is Jusuf Nurkic. But they may be in too deep of a hole by the time the big man returns.
Week 8: vs. NYK, @ DEN
Last Week: 21 ↓
Pace: 105.2 (3) OffRtg: 112.4 (5) DefRtg: 116.4 (30) NetRtg: -4.0 (23)
One might think that the absence of both Thomas Bryant (for the last four games) and Isaiah Thomas (for the last three) would hurt the offenses of both the Wizards and their opponents. But they combined with their opponents to score almost 117 points per 100 possessions last week, and they got their best win of the season by beating the Sixers on Thursday behind 27 points (on 11-for-18 shooting, including 4-for-6 from mid-range) from Rui Hachimura, 26 (with 13 free throw attempts) from Bradley Beal, and 25 (and 7-for-13 from 3-point range) from Davis Bertans. They've still lost five of their last six games, and they've allowed 8.0 more points per 100 possessions than the league average, which would make them the second worst defense in the 24 seasons for which we have play-by-play data, better than only the 1998-99 Denver Nuggets, who allowed 8.2 more than the league average (in a shortened season).
Week 8: @ CHA, @ MEM
Last Week: 26 ↑
Pace: 101.9 (12) OffRtg: 103.5 (29) DefRtg: 106.8 (12) NetRtg: -3.2 (21)
Lauri Markkanen has found his offense. After averaging just 13.3 points on an effective field goal percentage of just 42% through November, the third-year big man has averaged 19.3 points on an effective field goal percentage of 66% in four games this month. That has sparked a small step forward for the Bulls' offense as a whole, and they began the month (in which they have one of the East's easiest schedules) with a pair of wins. But after blowing fourth-quarter leads to the Warriors and Heat over the weekend, they finished 0-2 against Golden State and tied the Knicks (4-8) for the most losses (they're 8-8) after leading in the final period. The Bulls rank last in opponent free throw rate (33 attempts per 100 shots from the field) and their opponents attempted more than twice as many free throws (66) as they did (32) in those weekend losses.
Week 8: vs. TOR, vs. ATL, vs. CHA, vs. LAC
Last Week: 24
Pace: 98.8 (25) OffRtg: 106.3 (22) DefRtg: 113.9 (28) NetRtg: -7.6 (26)
Though he got spun around by a 42-year-old on Sunday, P.J. Washington has been a bright spot for the Hornets, ranking third among rookies in defensive rebounding percentage (15.2%) and fifth among them in effective field goal percentage (56.6%). Washington is only 6-foot-7 and 73% of his minutes have been played at the four, alongside one of Charlotte's veteran centers. But the Hornets (who have been outscored by 194 points overall) have outscored their opponents (by six points) in 194 minutes with Washington on the floor without one of their three centers and by 6.2 points per 100 possessions in the 129 of those minutes that Marvin Williams has also been on the floor. Williams missed the Hornets' loss to Atlanta on Sunday with a sore knee, but has shot 40% from 3-point range and, with trade season opening next Sunday, is one of the vets on expiring contracts that could be on the market.
Week 8: vs. WAS, @ BKN, @ CHI, @ IND
Last Week: 22 ↓
Pace: 104.2 (5) OffRtg: 107.5 (19) DefRtg: 114.5 (29) NetRtg: -7.0 (24)
At the start of the season, one might have had the Mavs and Pelicans on the same tier in the Western Conference (and one might have ranked New Orleans one spot ahead of Dallas in his or her Week 1 rankings). In two meetings last week, the Mavs beat the Pels by a total of 67 points, with New Orleans shooting 14-for-73 (19%) from 3-point range. The other end of the floor has been the bigger issue, of course; The Pels have allowed 118.4 points per 100 possessions over the course of their eight-game losing streak, and even Jrue Holiday has had some rough moments (losing his man here, an unsuccessful gamble there) defensively. A Western Conference playoff spot remains attainable for any team that has struggled through the first quarter of the season and the Pels have played the league's toughest schedule to date, but David Griffin confirmed this week that they'll continue to be cautious with Zion Williamson and the schedule itself is not going to spark a turnaround. (It doesn't get much easier until March anyway.)
Week 8: vs. DET, @ MIL, @ PHI, vs. ORL
Last Week: 30 ↑
Pace: 102.2 (11) OffRtg: 105.4 (24) DefRtg: 113.8 (26) NetRtg: -8.4 (27)
Vince Carter will play in his 1,500th career game in Miami on Tuesday, and he's still gettin' it done on occasion. Carter had a season-high 17 points, highlighted by a move that faked P.J. Washington out of his shoes, in the Hawks' win in Charlotte on Sunday. With Trae Young averaging 31.0 points on an effective field goal percentage of 60%, the Hawks have scored more than 116 points per 100 possessions as they've won two out of three (for the first time since they started the season 2-0) in the wake of their 10-game losing streak. Young hasn't been getting all the way to the basket as much as he did last season, but his floater game has been sharp; He leads the league with 66 non-restricted-area buckets in the paint, and is 56% on those shots is the best mark among 58 players who have attempted at least 50 of them.
Week 8: @ MIA, @ CHI, vs. IND, vs. LAL
Last Week: 25 ↓
Pace: 103.6 (6) OffRtg: 104.7 (25) DefRtg: 112.1 (22) NetRtg: -7.4 (25)
The Grizzlies are 1-4 without Ja Morant (who has missed the last four games with back spasms), and their no-Morant starting lineup (with Tyus Jones in the rookie's place) has been outscored by 20 points in its 42 minutes, having scored just 88 points on 95 offensive possessions. The bench has provided some decent minutes. Grayson Allen has scored in double figures in three out of four games for the first time in his career and De'Anthony Melton has 22 assists and just seven turnovers in 98 December minutes. Jaren Jackson Jr. has seen a jump in usage rate without Morant this month, and he has gotten a greater percentage of his shots in the paint with Morant off the floor (59%) than he has with Morant on the floor (51%). The Grizzlies' four game trip continues Monday in San Francisco, with the Warriors having had their biggest win of the season (114-95) when the two teams met in Memphis on Nov. 19.
Week 8: @ GSW, @ PHX, vs. MIL, vs. WAS
Last Week: 29 ↑
Pace: 100.3 (19) OffRtg: 103.6 (27) DefRtg: 113.4 (25) NetRtg: -9.8 (28)
Over the last five seasons, the Warriors outscored their opponents by 8.6 points per game, the league's second best mark, from 3-point range. This season's Warriors have been outscored by 13.6 points per game, the league's worst mark by a wide margin, from beyond the arc. And over the last four games, their opponents (including two teams that rank in the bottom five in 3-pointers per game) have made 30 more threes than the Warriors have. But there was a little something familiar -- a Draymond Green short roll and lob (to Glenn Robinson III) to put them ahead with a minute left -- as they finished their five-game trip with a win in Chicago. The Warriors have won three of the last six games in which they've had Green, and Kevon Looney made his return (playing for the first time since opening night) last week, though he and Green were only on the floor together for seven total minutes over his three games back.
Week 8: vs. MEM, vs. NYK, @ UTA, vs. SAC
Last Week: 27 ↓
Pace: 99.4 (24) OffRtg: 103.6 (28) DefRtg: 113.9 (27) NetRtg: -10.3 (29)
Over their last 13 games, the Cavs have been outscored by only 2.7 points per 100 possessions after halftime. But they've lost 12 of the 13, because they've been outscored by an amazing 31.2 per 100 before the half. With their two young guards combining to shoot 35% in the first half over the 13 games, they've trailed by 16 or more points at the half in seven of the 13, with their 41-point halftime deficit in Philadelphia on Saturday being the worst in franchise history. Kevin Love's usage rate (21.7%) is its lowest since his first season in Cleveland and his defense has often been cringeworthy. Reports that he could be traded in the next two months shouldn't come as a surprise and there are multiple teams (with playoff intentions) that could use help on the frontline, though moving that contract (Love is owed $91.5 million over three years beyond this season) is easier said than done.
Week 8: @ BOS, vs. HOU, @ SAS, @ MIL
Last Week: 28 ↓
Pace: 98.7 (27) OffRtg: 102.0 (30) DefRtg: 112.5 (24) NetRtg: -10.5 (30)
In a well-timed Friday afternoon news dump, David Fizdale was relieved of his duties as Knicks coach (and that feels like the appropriate term), but not until after he ran one more practice for some reason. The Knicks didn't lose by 30 in Mike Miller's first game as interim coach (they lost because Julius Randle missed a free throw), but they've still dropped nine straight as they head West for a four-game trip. It bears repeating that they could be 4-19 with a few more draft picks coming their way if, after striking out on the top names in free agency, they used their cap space to absorb contracts that other teams were looking to dump, rather than spending it all on ill-fitting, B and C-level free agents. Their four most intriguing young players -- Frank Ntilikina, RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson -- have played a total of 15 minutes together.
Week 8: @ POR, @ GSW, @ SAC, @ DEN